The San Diego Padres got a bit of bad news on Monday when it was announced that starting center fielder Cameron Maybin would miss 2-3 months with a ruptured biceps tendon, according to Dennis Lin of The San Diego Union-Tribune. Maybin sustained the injury while diving for a ball in a Cactus League game over the weekend.
Whenever a starter goes down for an extended period of time, teams have to turn to their depth for support. In this case, like so many others, that depth includes prospects.
WIl Venable will now be asked to carry an additional load defensively, but he's out of position in center field, especially if he's asked to play there for an extended period of time. The best major league-ready center fielder on the Padres roster is now Reymond Fuentes.
Fuentes, one of the pieces the Padres got in return for Adrian Gonzalez, is coming off his best minor league season to date in 2013, one that saw him hit .330/.413/.448 while spending most of the season in Double-A, but then finish it off with a miserable 36 plate appearance stint in the majors. Fuentes really needs to spend most of the 2014 season in Triple-A, but the Padres may not have that luxury.
Fuentes re-established himself as a potential top-of-the-order hitter last year after refining his approach and improving his contact rates, but there are still significant questions about his bat. He has virtually no power to speak of, meaning he'll have to get on-base between 35-40 percent of the time in order to be an effective offensive player. His defensive abilities in center field will add significant value to his game, as will his base running, but without being at least close to an average offensive player, he won't be able to justify regular at-bats.
And he probably won't get them this year either. The Padres outfield is still crowded even with Maybin on the shelf for a few months, and the Padres do have some options outside of Fuentes. He may be the best option defensively, but the Padres are also likely looking past this season and into their future, hoping that Fuentes will be a key piece of it. That plan may predicate that he spend most of the season furthering his development.
Fuentes would likely struggle in the majors if called upon to start the season, but if he can carry over his new approach from 2013 he'll have a fighting chance. Fuentes' game is based around getting on base and running, and if the Padres can bury him in the bottom of the order and let him see some pitches to hit and give him a chance to run, he could keep his head above water. He still profiles best as a fourth outfielder until he proves that his improvements at the plate are for real and will work against major league pitching without a formidable power threat, but for the time being, his skills in center field may be enough for the Padres to justify keeping him around into April.
Fuentes may not get the chance to prove himself right away this year, but with Maybin's injury, Fuentes is one player who actually has the chance to play his way onto a major league roster this spring.